The triumphs of love and friendship after tragedy are at the heart of this compelling and poignant novel of two complex and unforgettable women. A story of loss set in the aftermath of the 1915—1918 genocide of the Armenian people by the Turkish government, the novel moves through layers of time to show the far-reaching effects of war and displacement. Evolving partly in the mountainous landscape of Armenia and partly in the clear light and healing waters of Portugal, Erika de Vasconcelos’s magnificent and heartrending second novel explores the redemptive qualities of friendship and reminds us of the power of art and love.
In the late 1980s, during the last years of Communism in Soviet-controlled Armenia, Dzovig meets her lover Tomas at a nationalist march. Tomas is a patriot, obsessed with the ruined churches that testify to the country’s glorious past before the horrors of the twentieth century. When he later takes his own life with a gun, his reasons are a mystery to his parents and his lover. Numbed and fearless, Dzovig uses sex to buy her way out of the country she hates. She lives first in Moscow, then finds refuge in Portugal. Working for a kind restaurant owner in Lisbon, she learns Portuguese and meets Tito, a wealthy young man with a muscle-wasting disease. Through Tito she discovers the poet Fernando Pessoa and his celebration of the human ability to fashion multiple lives. Tito leads Dzovig part of the way out of her pain, yet wherever she goes, she cannot leave Armenia behind.
A tragic past, one that goes back to her own childhood, also haunts Vecihe, Tomas’s warm and caring mother. While Dzovig tries to flee her past, Vecihe has so far managed to keep the memories at bay through silence. She searches for Dzovig, yearning to connect, all the while struggling with her son’s death, the estrangement within her marriage, and her unspoken thoughts and knowledge. Agonizing truths keep seeping through, however, and her recollections become progressively deeper and darker until she is at last forced to confront the devastating memory of her mother’s account of the death march to Syria. Finally, changed and starting anew, Vecihe finds a haven in Canada. When she offers sanctuary to Dzovig, she reminds the young woman whom she thinks of as a daughter that “our worst pain comes out of silence.”
Told with the beautiful language and a striking sensitivity, Between the Stillness and the Grove is a major work of fiction that proves Erika de Vasconcelos an exceptionally talented and original writer. Whereas her first novel, My Darling Dead Ones, drew on personal experience and family history, here the author explores new territory. To research the book she spent ten days in Armenia and read transcripts of conversations with Armenians who survived the 1915 massacre, as well as accounts by Holocaust survivors. Many of the elderly Armenians she interviewed had never before spoken about their experience, about the anger and fear that had remained hidden inside them throughout their adult lives.